Ethical Shopping On A Budget: Work Bags & Purses

I wanted to start the new year and my new job with a more professional work bag and retire the one I've been using for the last few years–a black and white polka-dotted messenger bag from Pottery Barn Kids (hey, they have cute prints). It's been a reliable and relatively fashionable staple, but has suffered quite a bit of wear from everyday use and commuting. I also am revamping my entire wardrobe to be more professional and sophisticated, meaning that I am letting go of clothes I've had since I was a teenager and resisting the urge to hoard more A-line dresses.

The hunt for an ethically or sustainably made work bag has been more difficult than I had anticipated. Since I will be using this bag on a near daily basis, the "must-haves" for the bag are that it must be well-made, reliable, and versatile. I would also like it to be large enough to fit my laptop and lunch, have straps to fit cross-body or over my shoulder for comfortable commuting, and be able to withstand Chicago weather. I'm willing to pay a decent amount for the bag since I am expecting it to last many years. My inspiration for the bag is the classic, long-lasting Kate Spade diaper bag I purchased over 10 years ago that I still use on occasion. I would repurpose this bag for work, but it doesn't easily fit my laptop–a major drawback.

Here are some of the work bags I considered before making my final choice. 

Rags2Riches "Pierre" Satchel

Rags2Riches is for-profit social enterprise based in Manila, Philippines that sells eco-ethical fashion and home accessories made from upcycled scrap cloth, organic materials, and indigenous fabrics. The company works with artisans, who are mostly women, living in the poor communities in the Philippines. 

PROS

  • Social enterprise promotes women's economic development and uses recycled and local materials 
  • Reasonable price ($180 + shipping) for a well-constructed bag 
  • Adjustable leather strap can be converted from messenger bag to shoulder bag easily
  • Dimensions of bag (width: 13", height: 10") would fit a medium-sized laptop such as my MacBook

CONS

  • otton basketweave fabric looks less professional and more summery 
  • Comes in a variety of colors but not in black
  • Not in many stores for in-person viewing 

Hearts.com Mint and Gray Triangle Foldover Crossbody Bag

Hearts.com is an ethical, eco-friendly, and artisan online marketplace for men's and women's fashion, accessories, and home decor. I recently purchased my first item from Hearts.com for a family Christmas present and was pleased with the quality and mission of the product. In checking out their larger bags, though, I was somewhat disappointed as they are unlikely to be fit for a corporate workspace. 

PROS

  • Handmade in Cambodia of high-quality cotton
  • Versatility to be worn as a folded-over messenger bag or a tote
  • Affordable price ($90)

CONS

  • Dimensions of the bag would fit my laptop vertically but not horizontally (i.e. I wouldn't be able to use the messenger bag option if I was carrying my laptop)
  • Design of the bag may be too trendy for a long-term investment piece for a corporate work environment 

Hearts.com Unbroken Vegan Leather Handbag

I also found this vegan leather messenger bag on Hearts.com. So far in my search, this bag comes closest to my ideal work bag because it's black leather and therefore looks more professional and it has an attractive messenger bag shape. However, the dimensions included in the product's listing – 9"H, 1.5"W, 3"D — were a cause for concern and question. 

PROS

  • Handmade in India by women artisans with recycled materials 
  • Black vegan leather
  • Fashionable yet understated design that could last for a long time 
  • Affordable bag ($70)

CONS

  • Dimensions listed were suspect, and if correct, would not fit my laptop at all 
  • Emailed customer service to clarify the dimensions and am waiting to hear back

Everlane Classic Black Tote

Everlane is one of my favorite online marketplaces for ethical and sustainable goods given their commitment to what they call "radical transparency." Everlane shares the precise costs for everything they sell to educate and inform consumers about their purchases. As a plus, many of their items are made in the USA and all are made in certified ethical factories.

PROS

  • Simple, classic style that could be used for work and play
  • Dimensions would easily fit any size laptop (13.5” H X 3” W X 17” L)
  • Made in the USA: constructed from raw canvas from Illinois and manufactured at a small factory in the Texas
  • Low price ($40)

CONS

  • Tote bag only and cannot be transformed into a messenger bag
  • Snap closure instead of zipper closure 

SOURCED Large Tote Bag (via Etsy)

PROS

  • Made from upcycled truck tarpaulins (tarp) that were cut and sewn to salvaged seat-belt webbing for handles
  • Classic black and white design (many other design combinations available)
  • Can be worn as a messenger bag or handbag
  • Zipper closure on top with side zipper pocket
  • Dimensions (20" H x 15" W x 5" D) would easily fit laptop and other items 
  • Waterproof
  • Affordable price ($76)

CONS

  • Seatbelt strap looks somewhat less professional, but can be easily removed 

Fashion Conscience Vegan Classic Satchel Handbag

Fashion Conscience is a UK-based online marketplace for ethical, eco-friendly, and sustainable fashion items. I first learned about Fashion Conscience a few months ago when I was preparing for holiday gifts, but had forgotten about it until now when looking for a fashionable, reasonably priced, ethically made work bag. The site has a variety of brands and types of bags, including this vegan leather one above. 

PROS

  • Classic satchel and messenger bag style 
  • Zipped and line pockets inside 
  • Vegan leather made of non-animal material 
  • Affordable price (on sale for $45)

CONS

  • May not be large enough to fit my laptop (12.8" W x 9.2" H)
  • Listing only has one view for the bag 

Melie Bianco Vegan Isabel Lock Messenger Bag

Melie Bianco has quickly become one of my favorite ethical fashion designers for her trendy yet still classy looking bags. I found these bags when looking around Fashion Conscience (see above), and had an "ah ha" moment with this messenger bag in black. However, the bags are currently sold out and while I've signed up for an email alert when the item is restocked, there's no certainty that this bag will become available in the near future. 

PROS

  • Classic silhouette with handle and strap to be worn as an arm bag or messenger bag, respectively 
  • Vegan materials and made in a factory that's regularly vetted for ethical practices and treatment of employees
  • Large size to fit my laptop and other items
  • Inside zipper closure with multiple pockets 
  • Reasonable price ($103)

CONS

  • Sold out!

I was able to find the "Isabel" bag in a taupe/tan color via Ebay for $65 (buy it now price) or on Poshmark in a blush/light pink color for $50, but didn't think that the color would be flattering. After searching for over an hour to find this bag in black, I resigned to find some alternatives. Thankfully, many of Melie Bianco's other designs fit my criteria. Here are some of the other designs I considered. 

Melie Bianco Satchel Handbag with Removable Crossbody Strap ($60.00 at Target)

Melie Bianco Satchel Handbag with Removable Crossbody Strap ($60.00 at Target)

Melie Bianco D2572-Neomi Shoulder Bag ($79 via Amazon)

Melie Bianco D2572-Neomi Shoulder Bag ($79 via Amazon)

Melie Bianco Adrianne Purse ($55 via eBay)

Melie Bianco Adrianne Purse ($55 via eBay)

Melie Bianco Emma Braided Side Handbag ($80 via Amazon)

Melie Bianco Emma Braided Side Handbag ($80 via Amazon)

The Final Pick

After searching for hours for the perfect work-appropriate investment piece, I finally settled on the...

Melie Bianco D2572-Neomi Shoulder Bag! 

I'll report back once I receive the bag. Happy New Year!

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